Round two with Kris Padalino, pastry chef of Bittersweet
This is part two of my interview with Kris Padalino, pastry chef at Bittersweet; part one of our chat ran yesterday.
What cookbooks and/or food-related reading material do you draw inspiration from? I like to read blogs and cookbooks and surf the web for new trends or old ones that I can reinvent. Some of the cookbooks that I fall back on for inspiration are Alinea, Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook and Thomas Keller's The French Laundry, which is one of my favorites. I also enjoy reading David Lebovitz's personal food blog, along with Eddy Van Damme's blog. All of these chefs bring fresh, simple and creative ideas to pastry and food in general.
Favorite local ingredients and purveyors: I lived in California for seven years and was spoiled by the Santa Monica Farmers' Market. There were so many local farmers with amazing produce that I was like a kid in a candy store. When I came to Colorado, I was a little heartbroken that the markets here weren't as substantial, but I've been pleasantly surprised by the beautiful produce we can get from our local farms, including peaches from Palisade, which are, by far, the best peaches I've ever eaten or cooked with. Not surprisingly, they've become a big summer dish on my menu this year. Thank you, Colorado.
Your five favorite Denver/Boulder restaurants for sweets and/or pastries other than your own: The afternoon tea at the Brown Palace showcases desserts and pastries that are exquisitely made and arranged, and going there is like a little trip to royalty status. I love D Bar's chocolate cake and shake, of course; the Corner Office has this killer cotton-candy arrangement that I got on my birthday; the in-house pastries at Spruce Confections, in Boulder, are delicious, and so is the coffee; and I love sesame and have made my own desserts with it, but the sesame crème brûlée at Beatrice & Woodsley is just amazing.
Who's the most underrated pastry chef in Denver? Every pastry chef. There are a lot of restaurants and owners who don't have a pastry chef, and there are quite a few pastry chefs who don't challenge themselves as much as they should. My whole reason for coming to Bittersweet was to challenge my creativity and bring new ideas to the table. True, there's nothing wrong with staying in your comfort zone, but if you don't push yourself, Denver foodies will pass you by.
How does chef Olav Peterson's menu influence your desserts? Olav is all about the food, always playing with different profiles and textures, and he's a perfectionist when it comes to good food. He gives me complete creative range to do whatever I want. "It's your name on the menu," he says. I create desserts that will complement what he puts on his menu, and I'm able to bounce ideas off Olav and our sous chef, Will Johnson. We're all perfectionists when it comes to our craft, and we push one another to cook harder and make the next menu more creative and mind-blowing than the last. A lot of our ingredients come from our in-house garden, too, which is one of my favorite things about Bittersweet -- and a major inspiration for my Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil dessert. We plant the garden every season, and we use what's in it to cook in our kitchen. There aren't a lot of chefs today who take as much pride in their food as Olav does. His menus are forever changing and challenging him, and he's able to reinvent food to make it more flavorful and elegant. That's what I try to do with my desserts, as well.
Is having a pastry chef separate from the executive chef important in a restaurant? Most executive chefs and/or restaurant owners haven't quite figured out what an amazing pastry chef can do for their business. Pastry is an art and in a league of its own. Having a pastry chef who's not afraid to take charge allows for a more diverse menu and creative environment. It's important to have two chefs from both sides of the culinary spectrum in one kitchen.